The NCAA indoor track season may not have been 100% completed, but there were still some key takeaways from a long season which had tons of exciting action and impressive results. Below, I went back and reviewed some questions from our 22 Q's article that I had at the beginning of the season. Nearly two and a half months later, what were the answers to these questions? Let's dive in and find out...
1. What will Colorado's DMR (women) look like?
Initial Analysis: The Colorado women have the potential to not only have the best DMR in the nation this season, but they could break the collegiate record. Dani Jones and Sage Hurta paired together make the Buffs national title favorites as it is and having Rachel McArthur on the 800 leg makes this squad somehow ever better. However, if Hurta or Jones opted to pursue other open events, we could also see women like Makena Morley or Tabor Scholl find a spot on this relay. With so many top-tier talents, it's hard to say what this DMR will look like.
Reflection: Woof. What a complete miss on my part. Sage Hurta's indoor track season ended before it even began due to injury and Dani Jones wasn't even going to run on Colorado's DMR at the National Championships. Of course, if Hurta is healthy, then maybe Jones does end up running the DMR at NCAA's. Regardless, this will likely end up as one of the greatest "what could have been" relays in NCAA history.
2. What will Iowa State's DMR (men) look like?
Initial Analysis: Some of my fellow writers believe that Edwin Kurgat could anchor Iowa State's DMR this season. While that may be an option in theory, I'm not sure he's a practical anchor. He would essentially have no rest after the 5000 meters at NCAA's (an event he'll almost definitely run) and his mile PR of 4:06 makes him far from a sure thing in terms of being competitive on the national stage if he's assigned to the anchor leg (even if he does improve).
I think it's somewhat safe to assume that an Iowa State DMR would have some combination of Roshon Roomes, Daniel Nixon, and Festus Lagat. The only question is...in what order? Lagat seems to be the most logical choice for the anchor leg, but can Roomes or Nixon be a reliable option on the 1200 leg?
Reflection: Unfortunately, we never got to see what this DMR was going to look like on the national stage. However, it looks like my initial hunch about Kurgat was correct. He was going to run the 5k at the National Championships which effectively made him anchoring Iowa State's DMR a non-possibility. One source suggested that Iowa State was going substitute Kurgat with Chad Johnson on the anchor leg, resulting in a very different (but still competitive) relay.
3. Which unattached women from the Boston University 5k will redshirt this indoor track season? Which women will race attached?
Initial Analysis: Yes, I know this is technically more than one question, but just work with me here.
Back in December, we saw a handful of the NCAA's top distance talents toe the line for the Boston University Season Opener 5k...except some of those women were running unattached. Taylor Werner, Courtney Wayment, Erica Birk-Jarvis, and Elly Henes were not wearing their school's singlet, leading us to believe that they could redshirt the winter of 2020.
We know for a fact that Werner will be sitting out this season, although we will still get to see her at the Millrose Games in February. But what about the other three? Our assumption is that they will be redshirted, but it's difficult to say for sure.
Reflection: I should preface this by saying that Birk-Jarvis didn't actually have any indoor track eligibility left, so we can leave her out of this conversation. As for these other women, they literally couldn't have picked a better time to use their redshirt seasons. It's still unclear if athletes who qualified for the Indoor National Championships will get an additional year of eligibility for indoor track, but my hunch is that they will not.
Henes, Werner and Wayment were all realistic candidates to qualify for the National Championships this year. By taking their redshirt season, they ultimately avoided losing a winter season where they couldn't even compete at Nationals anyways.
4. Who is the favorite to win the women's mile national title if Dani Jones doesn't contest the event?
Initial Analysis: TSR is currently under the assumption that Julia Rizk has left the collegiate system as she is no longer on the Ohio State roster (we are awaiting confirmation). If that's the case (and it seemingly is), then a new champion will be crowned in 2020.
The favorite to win this year's title is Dani Jones, but that's under the assumption that she'll even contest the event (more on that later). If she decides to go for the DMR/3k double, then the mile will likely be out of the question for her (although she could triple).
So who does that leave us with? Danae Rivers could be a title favorite, but she could very easily end up running the 800 meters instead. Whittni Orton, Lauren Gregory, Carina Viljoen, and Sarah Edwards are strong candidates to take home NCAA gold this winter, but are we ready to call any of them "favorites" yet? I would say no.
If Jones doesn't run the mile, then this year seems wide-open for the event.
Reflection: Entering the national meet, Jones was the clear favorite to win NCAA gold in the mile, so this question didn't really have much significance once the entries were released. Still, if Jones wasn't going to run the mile, then the difficulty of this question doesn't get any easier. With other women like Whittni Orton and Ella Donaghu scratching out of the mile, that left women like Danae Rivers and Julia Heymach as potential title favorites (if Jones wasn't in the equation). Of course, none of that necessarily matters now, but it's interesting to take a look back and realize that the women's mile field was just as wide-open as we thought it could be.
5. Who is the favorite to win the men's mile national title?
Initial Analysis: Some people will quickly point to Nuguse and argue that he's the national title favorite. To some extent, I would agree with that, but I believe that he's a favorite...not necessarily the favorite. Beamish showed us last year that he is tactically much better than we give him credit for and Hoare has the most raw talent out of anyone in the NCAA.
Going into the indoor national meet last year, everyone rightfully placed Hoare as the favorite, but after showing that he's human on a few occasions, there may be less certainty with this event as we enter the winter months.
Reflection: When Nuguse and Teare scratched out of the mile (along with Klecker who was expected to scratch anyway), the initial analysis of this question became plenty relevant. The emergence of Oregon's Charlie Hunter and James West added two potential title contenders into the equation along with Beamish and Hoare. You could have maybe argued in favor of a few others, but generally speaking, the men's mile field was packed with uncertainty between a handful of runners and I'm not sure anyone felt super comfortable going all-in on just one name to win it all.
6. How will star freshmen fare during indoors? Who gets redshirted?
Initial Analysis: Michigan's Ericka VanderLende's 5k personal best from high school was 16:20. The catch is that she ran that time on an indoor track. If she's not redshirted this winter, then she'll clearly be a sneaky-strong talent to watch in the 5000 meters as she should significantly improve on that PR.
I'll be curious to see how the Washington women handle the indoor oval. We know how talented Melany Smart is and Carley Thomas is expected to be just as good (if not better). The only issue is that we don't know if they'll be able to replicate their outdoor performances on the indoor oval (we're not saying they can't, we just haven't seen it yet).
As for the men, the top talents that we were used to seeing this past fall (Bosley, Harrison, and Hocker) have a very good chance of being redshirted, especially Harrison. Colorado almost always redshirts their youngsters (at some point or another) as does Northern Arizona.
After a long cross country season, these men will more likely than not be sidelined for the winter.
Reflection: Gosh, there is a lot to process here. VanderLende was solid, but she is clearly better on the grass than she is on the track. She improved her 5k PR, but not by an absurd amount like I thought she would. Meanwhile, the Washington duo of Smart and Thomas were exceptional, especially Thomas. They clearly didn't have any issues acclimating to collegiate competition on the indoor oval.
As for the men's side, I was spot-on with the idea that both Kashon Harrison and Drew Bosley were going to be redshirted. Colorado and NAU leaned heavily on their two star freshmen this past fall and they likely needed to reset this winter. This gave Hocker an opportunity to shine with a 3:58 national qualifying performance in the mile. Although, if there was ever a season to redshirt, 2020 seemed like the ideal time to do so given the recent developments...
7. How deep will the 5000 meters be this season?
Initial Analysis: Last year's depth in the 5000 meters was unfathomable. Based on what we could find, last year was the hardest year to make it to Nationals in the event. The #16 time in the NCAA (the final automatic spot to Nationals) for the men's 5k was 13:41 (Vincent Kiprop). For the women, that time was 15:42 (Abbie McNulty). Those are absurdly fast times just to qualify for the national meet.
This year, however, we don't necessarily expect the 5k to be quite as fast.
Guys like Clayton Young, Morgan McDonald, Obsa Ali, Vincent Kiprop, Gilbert Kigen, and Connor McMillan have all used up their eligibility. Meanwhile, James Sugira hasn't competed in the past two seasons of competition, Mantz is pursuing the Marathon Trials this winter, it's unclear what Brandt's health status is, and we don't know who will be redshirted.
As for the women, the potential redshirts of Werner, Birk-Jarvis, Wayment, and Henes, along with the graduation of top names from last year (Kurgat, Lokedi, Ostrander, Smith, LaRocco, and McNulty) seemingly dilute this year's 5000 meters.
There will obviously be plenty of men and women who step up and have breakout seasons, but it seems like it will be difficult to match the extensive depth of last year's 5000 meters in 2020.
Reflection: On the men's side, the 5k was actually deeper than last year...I have no idea how. 2019 was already a historically great year, with the 16th (and final) 5k qualifying time to Nationals being 13:41.21. But in 2020, that time dropped down to 13:40.99. However, depth wasn't the only thing that was noticeably better in the men's 5k. Last year, no one broke the 13:30 barrier. This year, four men did just that.
However, the women's side was severely lacking depth. Again, I'm not entirely sure why.
Last year, the 16th and final qualifying time to Nationals in the 5k was 15:42.13. But this year? That NCAA #16 time was 15:52.54. And after scratches? That time dropped all the way to 16:04.15.
Long story short, I was wrong about the men and right about the women.
8. How many men will run under the 4:00 barrier in the mile this season?
Initial Analysis: In an episode of Hops & Props, fellow TSR contributor John Cusick suggested that we could see up to 40 men break the four minute barrier this season. While that does seem a bit aggressive, it's not totally out of the question. Last spring was a historically deep year for the 1500 meters and numerous top talents will be returning in 2020. While the number will likely fall in the range of 33 to 37, expect a heavy number of men to run under 4:00 this winter.
Reflection: I could not have been more right about estimating the number of sub-four collegiate milers this year. The end total (including conversions) that we saw this year was 35 sub-four collegiate milers - exactly in the middle of my estimated range (33 to 37). If a few early-season opportunities had been as fast as they could have been, then maybe that magical number of 40 would have looked a little more realistic.
9. How many women will run under the 4:40 barrier in the mile this season?
Initial Analysis: We've actually seen the number of women running under the 4:40 barrier dip in recent years. Back in 2017, 41 women ran under the mark (including conversions). In 2018, that number was 39. Last year? It was 35.
While we don't necessarily expect that number to drop much lower, we shouldn't be expecting anything crazy in 2020. Anything above 38 would be considered a deep year for the event.
Reflection: The total number of D1 sub-4:40 collegiate women's milers this year was 38 women. I'm not saying that I can see the future, but i'm also not NOT saying that I can see the future.
Also, if you include D2 runners into this total, then that number rises to 40.
After seeing a consistent dip in the number of sub-4:40 results over the past few years, the women's overall mile field was expected to rebound (which is exactly what happened). It's difficult to say what will happen next year, but with nine of the top 13 D1 mile times being run by seniors this year, I don't see the NCAA exceeded that total of 38 come 2021.
10. Can the Stanford women bring their success from last spring to the indoor oval?
Initial Analysis: Fiona O'Keeffe will be great as always (if she's healthy), but what about the other Stanford women? Jessica Lawson, Ella Donaghu, and Jordan Oakes had breakout cross country seasons this past fall, but that shouldn't have come as much of a surprise considering both Lawson and Donaghu ran 4:11 for the 1500 meters last spring.
The only catch is that between Oakes, Lawson, and Donaghu, the fastest mile PR is 4:43 (Donaghu). These three women have respectable indoor track resumes, but their outdoor track and cross country performances have been significantly better.
That, however, could very easily change over the next two months.
Reflection: The answer to this was a resounding YES. Even without O'Keeffe, who may have been recovering from a back injury that she sustained at the tail-end of this past cross country season, the Stanford women were flat-out phenomenal this winter.
Ella Donaghu and Jessica Lawson were among the nation's most elite distance runners when it came to the mile and 3k distances. Meanwhile, Julia Heymach rapidly rose up the middle distance ranks, looking like a potential sleeper pick for the mile national title at times. The Cardinal women were one of the few groups who had enough potential to take down BYU en route to NCAA gold in the DMR.
And if you thought that was it, then you'd be wrong. Jordan Oakes ran a 4:37 mile at the end of the season at the overlooked MPSF Championships while Christina Aragon began her comeback campaign, posting a time of 4:37 and qualifying herself for the National Championships.
Even without O'Keeffe, the Stanford women had one of the best distance contingents in the NCAA when looking at top-tier firepower and depth. Kudos to the Cardinal.
11. Will we finally see Dustin Nading return to the track? How will he perform?
Initial Analysis: The newest Washington Husky who transferred from Western Oregon is the 2018 D2 mile national champion. Unfortunately, we haven't seen him race in an entire year (he was absent throughout the entirety of 2019). With a new coach and new team supporting him, will we finally see him toe the line this winter?
Reflection: Yes, we would! Nading's decision to transfer to Washington turned out to be an extremely beneficial move. The former Western Oregon ace started out his season running unattached, but after running 2:22 in the 1000 meters at the UW Preview, Nading was put into a UW singlet. He would eventually run 3:59.77 at the UW Invitational before running 3:59.25 at the Husky Classic. Having Andy Powell overseeing Nading's training clearly paid off for him.